diamond geezer

 Friday, January 08, 2016

WALK CROSSRAIL
3) Canary Wharf to Whitechapel
(2 miles)

At the end of the year after next, Canary Wharf will gain a new rail link to the centre of London. But where precisely will that railway line be going as it burrows beneath the streets of Tower Hamlets towards the City? That's what the next part of my attempt to Walk Crossrail attempts to find out.


The initial direction of travel is obvious - straight ahead beneath the waters of the West India Dock. That's underneath the DLR at West India Quay, past the hotel and warehouses on the dockside and past the point where the historic SS Robin used to be moored before Crossrail construction work began. Other small boats survive in the water, like for example the delightfully named Knocker White, a Thames Tug now under the ownership of the adjacent Museum of Docklands. At the far end of the dock is Hertsmere House, a bog-standard four-storey office block from the 1980s, or rather was. It's just been knocked down to make way for something more relevant to 21st century Docklands, a 67-storey residential tower which, if planning permission is given, will be the tallest residential building in Western Europe. With a cinema and swimming pool halfway up, and a penthouse only six metres lower than One Canary Wharf, it's not for you.

Crossrail heads beneath the quadrangle of old dock buildings at Cannon Workshops, a rare single storey survivor now used to house a flurry of reassuringly small business, before returning to more ordinary parts of town. The tunnels nudge north to avoid the entrance to the Limehouse Link, crossing into Limehouse proper close to the end of Narrow Street. Initially the local shops are more likely to be estate agents, and the local buildings converted wharves, but before long the more mundane side of Tower Hamlets housing kicks in. In the space of a couple of streets the focus switches from financial workers to the financially inferior, and the hand of the council is increasingly evident. So too is the hand of Hawksmoor in the form of elegant 18th century St Anne's, still flying the White Ensign from the tower, and unexpectedly now the parish church for all those Docklands bankers.



If we're ticking off surface-level points of passage, the westbound Crossrail tunnel passes beneath the Limehouse Cut beside the DLR viaduct, then directly beneath the Limehouse Accumulator Tower, then slap bang under Limehouse Lock at the start of the Regent's Canal. There's about a week's worth of potential blogging in that last sentence alone. Instead best press on across Commercial Road and the far end of the platforms at Limehouse c2c station, to the much much quieter residential quarter behind. These are the Stepney borderlands, where a large number of Victorian streets have survived despite the Luftwaffe's best intentions. York Square is a particularly pleasant End End leftover, its railinged grass bounded on two and a half sides by cosy Victorian terraces and not one but two proper pubs, the Old Ship and Queen's Head, at opposite corners.

We're now approaching the key location where the two eastern branches of Crossrail meet (or in the opposite direction diverge). This convergence lurks in the immediate vicinity of part-Saxon St Dunstan's Church, better known as the Bells of Stepney in the nursery rhyme, which now boasts three separate rail tunnels beneath its churchyard. It won't surprise you to hear that the precise junction is currently a large Crossrail worksite, indeed I suspect engineers drew the line of Crossrail's route with the deliberate intention of linking the lines beneath something they'd be allowed to dig up. In this case that's the entire length of Garden Street, thankfully narrowly avoiding the neighbouring City Farm, hence its donkeys, chicken, sheep and cafe remain in situ.



The Stratford branch of Crossrail joins up here at Stepney Green. I could have walked you this way instead, starting from what used to be Pudding Mill station but is now the concrete ramp down from a yet-to-be-built flyover, but quite frankly the route's not as interesting. It heads beneath the River Lea just north of the Bow Roundabout, ducks under Bow Road by the Post Office, then tracks the c2c railway viaduct round the back of Tower Hamlets Cemetery and passes almost under Mile End Stadium. Maybe some other time.

Now combined, twice as many Crossrail trains will be heading beneath the football pitch at Stepney Green Park, and then the park itself. To keep up, bear off Stepney Green at the clocktower to follow Redmans Road into densely-packed residential territory. A lot of Tower Hamlets off the main drag looks like this, mostly 20th century lowrise flats, but with the occasional unbombed Victorian apartment block for those who fancy something more angular. By now the route is only one street back from the Mile End Road, with a choice of increasingly minor linking passageways for those on foot to follow. As a result, and please forgive me, the next paragraph focuses on everything Time Out would find thrilling about the immediate area.

Lovers of vintage fashion should make a beeline for the amazing East End Thrift Store on Assembly Passage. This repository of classic clothing is concealed up a Whitechapel sidestreet, overlooked except by the hip and those in the know, who exit with bags brimming over with retro bargains their parents used to wear. As a post-retail treat, cross to O'Leary Square and pamper yourself at Rinkoff's. This centenarian Jewish bakery is the spiritual home of the crodough, an impossibly decadent cross between a croissant and a doughnut, and therefore to utterly die for. Check out the tray on the counter and choose between Lemon Drizzle, Peanut Butter and Jam, Salted Caramel and Pistachio or good old plain Custard, and your arteries be damned. If that's not enough, at Dirty Burger across the street you can stuff your face with breakfast bacon and crinkle cut fries, so long as you can keep the tip of your hipster beard out of the Oreo milkshake. Get down here fast before Crossrail opens up the secrets of the full fat East End to all and sundry.



Back in the real world, almost, the new railway crosses the Mile End Road near the William Booth statue, and its newly appointed Catherine Booth counterpart, before clipping the toilets at the back of the Blind Beggar pub. This is the run-up to Whitechapel station, hence the tunnels are now lined up perfectly straight to accommodate the extremely long subterranean platforms. Sainsbury's car park has been landgrabbed by construction work for several years now, with vehicles now parked in a temporary upstairs while engineers drill and drop things down a giant shaft below. Indeed a large part of central E1 is off limits at the moment, including most of Durward Street, making access to the Sports Centre less than ideal.

We're about to reach a significant moment in the development of Crossrail at Whitechapel, as the front entrance to the station is only a week away from being sealed off. Next weekend the entire station will be closed to allow enabling works to take place, and then on Monday 18th a new temporary entrance will open round the back and everyone'll be directed that way for a few years. It'll be an annoying detour for most, but get used to it, because the new Crossrail platforms are all to the north of the existing underground station anyway, indeed further north than all but the very far end of the Overground platforms. You have only seven more days to experience the up-and down-hike from Whitechapel Road, and to ogle the ancient lightbox on the footbridge to the District line. All change, all very much change.



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